December 1, 1928. Into the brilliantly blinking Manhattan night wander two lost lambs straight from Des Moines, newly orphaned Patrick Dennis, age 10, and Agnes Gooch, faithful nanny delivering her charge to his only living relative, a certain Mame Dennis of No. 3 Beekman Place (St. Bridget).
In Mame's penthouse apartment, a towering party is going on as Patrick and Agnes arrive. "You wait here," houseboy Ito tells them. "Missy Dennis having affair now." The affair is the kind at which bathtub gin was once served to headline-makers, royalty, the avant-garde and the pick of the Algonquin Round Table, mixed well and riotous. No special occasion is needed. "We're here! It's now!" And that's reason enough for Mame to lead the charge, borrowing Bix's bugle for emphasis (It's Today).
Finally Mame is inadvertently introduced to her new ward and nanny-in-law and undertakes their care. Patrick immediately likes his new aunt, the only lady bugle player he's ever met. Mame's authority over Patrick is shared with the Knickerbocker Bank, appointed trustee in her late brother's will to exert a conservative influence on the boy. The bank is represented by Dwight Babcock, the sort of stuffed shirt who would feel naked without his vest. Mame and Babcock disagree about Patrick's schooling. But Babcock holds the aces; the will specified conservative education. Mame appears to bow to Babcock, dismisses him and appoints herself Patrick's mentor. The window on the world she opens to him shows him, among other things, a view of an art class with bare model, a four-alarm fire, a nightclub raid and a trip to the police station (Open a New Window).
Babcock is not so easily gotten around. He discovers Patrick happily enrolled in Ralph Devine's Laboratory of Life playing "fish families," brings the naked boy home in a blanket, then whisks him away to his own alma mater, St. Boniface in Massachusetts. Meanwhile the stock market crashes and Mame is broke. In a lunatic moment she accepts the role of Moon Lady in a musical which stars her friend Vera Charles. Vera plays the part of a lady astronomer who makes the musical discovery that the Man in the Moon is Madam. All Mame has to do is to straddle this crescent moon as it rises for the climax of the last act. At the first performance out-of-town (Shubert, New Haven), the Rising of the Moon is a wobbly disaster (The Man In the Moon).
Patrick has hitchhiked to New Haven to see Mame and comes backstage to congratulate her ("Everybody noticed you"). But Mame knows she's out of a job, a failure. "Not to me," says Patrick. "Never to me." (My Best Girl)
Mame tries one job after another with the same disastrous results. Her only assets, other than separation pay, are her faithful employees, now unpaid, Ito and Gooch. She did meet a man, Beauregard Jackson Picket Burnside, during a brief fling at manicuring. But she stabbed him so bad she expects never to see him again.
To lighten the desperate mood, Mame proclaims instant Christmas, though it's early December. Patrick is home for the weekend, and Mame brings out the present she bought when she still had some money, his first long pants. For Gooch a bottle of "Assignation," for Ito a Walgreen wristwatch. Patrick is equally farsighted and produces a bracelet bought with money he got pawning his bugle. Ito and Gooch present Mame with a pile of bills paid with their rainy-day money. When Beau Burnside appears and takes them out for a feed, happy days are here again (We Need a Little Christmas).
Beau wants to marry Mame but must first get the approval of his family, particularly his mother. He takes Mame to Peckerwood, the Burnside plantation. Patrick is with her. A formidable array of relatives wait to inspect her, with Mother Burnside easily outweighing them all. The one who is most determined to fix Mame's wagon is Sally Cato, engaged to Beau since grammar school. It is she who maneuvers Mame into declaring herself a horsewoman and who obligingly equips her with riding togs, sidesaddle and a mount, Lightnin' Rod, known to be out of his mind. Beau has his doubts but decides that "whatever Mame says she can do, she can do." She does, the first woman in Southern aristocratic riding circles to bring the fox back alive.
Mame, by virtue of her glorious seat, has won the hearts of all. Beau proposes, with a little help, and she accepts. The South rises to welcome her to Dixie (Mame).
Mame is heard again, reprised by young Patrick writing to his aunt as she and Beau enjoy breaking the world's record for long distance honeymoons. The years slip by and suddenly Patrick is grown. He is tall, shaves, goes out with girls. Only his typing is the same (The Letter).
To the grown Patrick comes harsh news, brought by old friend Babcock. Beau has slipped off an Alp and been killed. Mame calls Patrick on the overseas telephone and is comforted by him.
Back in Mame's Beekman Place apartment, Vera and publisher friend Lindsay Woolsey prepare to organize a new life for the widowed Mame, now wealthy again. Deciding that she is to write her memoirs they have sent Gooch to Speedo, raising her shorthand to two hundred words per minute. Mame accepts, and she and Vera begin to remember old times. Vera and Mame promise each other that, whenever all else fails, they will always be there to tell each other the ugly truth. What are friends for? (Bosom Buddies)
Mame and Vera decide to remake Gooch as a swinger. With a shot of whiskey, red dress, no glasses, her bust freed, high heels, lipstick and perfume she is sent out into the world to Live. Six months later she returns looking much as she did before she was remodeled, but bigger. She strayed, not only into Life, but directly into Motherhood (Gooch's Song).
Mame takes Gooch under her wing. But Gooch's presence at Beekman Place makes a problem for Patrick. He has a girl, Gloria, who's a bit of a square and would be shocked to see his aunt sheltering a Fallen Woman. However, Patrick consents to have Mame properly meet the girl's parents, a Mr. and Mrs. Upson of Mountebank. At an engagement party in their palatial barn, Mame is served daiquiris made with strained honey, hors d'oeuvres of tuna fish, clam juice and peanut butter, plus an assortment of the Upsons' unsolicited prejudices. Mame - one of the chaperones - is on her best behavior until the Upsons leave the scene for a moment. Then she takes over the joint (That's How Young I Feel).
Claude Upson suggests that he and Mame buy the engaged couple the unrestricted house plot next door, thereby simultaneously setting them up in real estate and keeping out the riffraff. Mame takes Patrick aside and asks him if he's sure he wants this kind of hidebound domesticity. Patrick says yes; he's tired of all the screwballs and celebrities he's had to associate with as Mame's ward. He wants to protect Gloria from non-conformists. Mame calls him a Babbitt, and Patrick runs out. Then she wonders where she went wrong (If He Walked Into My Life).
Mame plans a little party of her own. With her apartment newly redecorated by pretty Pegeen Ryan, a reconciliation appears to be in the offing. The Upsons are coming to dinner. So are Babcock, Vera and an assortment of Mame's cronies. If Mame was out of place at the Upsons', they are glaringly unreal here. And when Gooch, now tent-sized, comes down for her calcium pills, the engagement is threatened. Mame calmly serves canapes of eel, rattlesnake, pickled python and bees. Ito has outdone himself.
It is at this moment that Mame announces that she has bought the plot next to the Upsons' for the Beauregard Burnside Memorial Home for Single Mothers. The Upsons and Babcock leave abruptly. But Patrick has become attracted to pretty Pegeen and frankly thanks Mame for getting him out of his previous engagement.
Some years later (World War II has snuck by there), there is a new boy child in the house, Peter, son of Patrick and Pegeen. Mame is off again for a round-the-world trip, first to India, and has shown Peter how to wear a turban on his head. She teaches him her only phrase of Hindi, meaning "the water oxen are waiting at the gate." The boy begins to get the idea and is soon imploring his mother to let him go along with Mame ("It's only to India"). Pegeen won't hear of it, strict mother that she is, then suddenly relents. Mame has that effect on people. (Finale)